Book: Mystery Muses

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Mystery Muses: 100 Classics That Inspire Today's Mystery Writers

Author: Jim Huang, Austin Lugar
Publisher: Crum Creek Press

We asked 100 published writers: “Did a mystery set you on your path to being a writer? Is there a classic mystery that remains important to you today?” This book is the result.

The writers we contacted represent the entire spectrum of the mystery genre, from cozy to hardboiled, from acclaimed veterans to some of the field’s most intriguing newcomers. Young or old, each of these writers reminds us of a basic truism: great writers are great readers first. Their essays reveal the extent to which the discovery of these seminal texts was not just literary inspiration but a life-altering event.

We found it especially endearing to see how often contributors referred not just to a book’s text but to its literal form as well: a particular copy of a particular edition. We are reminded that the power of the printed word derives in part from the fact that it is printed and bound, fixed in both time and place.

In these essays, we’re also reminded of the power of the genre itself. For many writers, their classics represent more than just a bar against which to measure their own work, they inspired a new way to look at the landscape of literature.

These writers represent several generations of mystery lovers, and the classics they cite represent every era of the mystery story, from the 1840s to the 1990s. We’ve arranged these essays in the order of the publication of the classics they cover, from Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of the Amontillado” to Dennis Lehane’s Gone, Baby, Gone. This chronological arrangement offers something of a history of the genre, and reveals that the virtues of early crime stories are not necessarily the same as what we admire in more recent work.

It’s striking how many of the classics covered are newer. Fifty essays cover books published in 1952 and earlier. Fifty essays cover books published since 1954. Can a book that’s just 25 years old be considered a classic? Just 10 years old? Our position is simple: just because a book was published recently doesn’t mean it didn’t influence someone. The power of a story doesn’t derive from its age; it’s in the story itself, and its reader.

If genre truly is “a conversation among texts,” as science fiction editor David Hartwell has written, we hope that Mystery Muses will become part of the conversation. These essays are not just about 100 beloved books. They are just as much about 100 of the genre’s finest current practitioners, writers who respect the past and who continue to be inspired by classics as they define the future of the mystery story.

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